Read Time 4 Minutes
Jimi Hendrix “Somewhere” Lesson
This lesson/style survey will examine the opening bars of “Somewhere”, a track from the recent Jimi Hendrix release People, Hell and Angels – Click here to see the video.
As an aside, it’s mind boggling to me in the year 2013 to realize that 43 years after Jimi Hendrix’ death that there are still tracks getting released from a recording period that only spanned from 1967-1970. It speaks volumes about the relationship between Hendrix’ work ethic and creative output. Guitarists who aspire to mastery of the instrument would do well to study that relationship and apply it.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get into this!
Bars 1-3 (0:00:00 – 0:05:07)
After the 1/16th note pick up, Hendrix starts the track off with an E 7#9 chord (aka the “Purple Haze” chord) and uses a cool triadic device (morphing a G Major inversion (G-B-D) into a G minor (G-Bb-D) with a chromatic line to tie it into the D7#9 in bar 3. Hendrix was really into mixing and matching different tonalities as sonic colors which is something you’ll want to investigate if you delve further into his style.
- In bar 2, it sounds like Hendrix chose to hit an open D string, but playing the same note on the 5th fret of the A string helps set up the fingering pattern in Bar 3 as well.
- One signature Hendrix approach is to dig into every note he plays so make sure you attack the notes with gusto. Also, don’t be afraid to throw a little vibrato and a slide on the last two notes of bar 3 to get up the verse.
Bars 4 – 8 (0:05:08 – 0:16:27)
These two-bar chord progressions in the song’s intro (with a seemingly endless series of variations) also make up the gist of the verse. Compositionally, “Somewhere” has in interesting structure in that the verse is only 6 measures long (as opposed to 8, 16 or 32-bars).
- Those of you familiar with the Hendrix classic, “Little Wing” will recognize the style of the chord embellishments found here. Take some time studying these and apply Hendrix’s lesson of constant variation.
- I recommend using a first finger barre for the G chord in bar 4 which then slides up into the A pentatonic minor/A7 shape above it.
- Changing the tempo of the song after the first two bars, is initially jarring but allows the feel of the verse to breathe more.
Bars 9-12 (0:16:28– 0:28:25)
Welcome to a string bending master class!!!
Most of these four bars are Hendrix hitting a single note (the “a” on the 2nd fret of the G string) and bending it into the phrase you see above. I originally notated this as bends, but the notation seemed confusing, so I’ve indicated the pitches Hendrix bent the “a” pitch to instead.
Again (as this is an important note) all of the pitches on the G string in this section are bent to!
- Make sure to use two fingers on the bend to control the pitch changes.
- The Eb in bar 12 is simply the bent note from the bar before it.
- The ¼ note wah made discerning the exact pitch and rhythm challenging so please note that the rhythms in bars 11 and 12 are interpretive at best and open to substantial interpretation. As crazy as some of this looks rhythmically, even the manic flurry in bar 12 when broken down into phrases will clearly sound like a phrase rooted in the blues.
What’s interesting about this phrase to me is that it appears to be completely reactive. I don’t get the sense that Hendrix had a pre-conceived lick that he was going for (he’s also played open strings I haven’t notated as they seem part of the attack of the G string rather than purely intended and he’s bent many of these notes to ¼ tone variations of the pitches written here). I think instead that Hendrix bent the first note and then created the phrase after it as a rhythmically driven response to the first bend he made. It’s stream of consciousness communication of the highest order and one of the things that makes him one of the greatest guitarists (if not the greatest guitarist) who ever lived.
This section will take a while to really get down but it’s well worth your time to study closely.
Bars 13-19 0:28-26 – 0:49:89
This verse is a great lesson in getting mileage from a simple chord progression. Hendrix liked harmonic ambiguity and would often combine notes from minor triads and dominant 7th voicings (like the E7 (and 7#9), G and Amin/A7 chords in this progression).
When I see the three-note voicing in bar 14, I usually think of a major 7 shape (in this case C Major 7/A to D Major 7/A), but analyzed as a whole, the two chords together contain the notes (A, C#, E, G, B, F# or an A Dom 13 (no 11) chord). Was Hendrix thinking about the theory behind that when he played it? Probably not – but he definitively knew what sound he was going for and was playing something that he heard in his head. This is perhaps the best take away from this lesson. If you play what you hear, it will always sound like you.
This lesson may only cover 19 bars, but there’s a lot there to work on!
I hope this transcription/lesson has given you some inspiration and some new ideas to and approaches to try out on your own material.